A daily review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
Thursday marks the final day of the 2017 regular session in the state House and Senate. Lawmakers are taking a bit of a victory lap a day after a 12 cents per-gallon gas tax increase became law over the objections of Gov. Henry McMaster.
Legislators overwhelmingly overrode McMaster’s veto on Wednesday, saying that raising the tax is the only realistic way for South Carolina to raise roughly $630 million in new road repair funding. McMaster had insisted the proposal would make driving more expensive and lawmakers had other options available such as borrowing new money or ensuring all current gas tax money is devoted solely to roadwork.
Members will spend Thursday attempting to compromise and pass various minor bills before the session ends at 5 p.m. However, legislators also still need to approve next year’s proposed budget.
Some legislation coming down to the wire today include an open records bill and tougher moped restrictions.
— Members of the House said they will try again next year on a plan that would try to raise nearly a half-billion dollars through borrowing to pay for building repairs at colleges and state agencies. With only one day remaining in this year’s regular session, the House voted Wednesday to delay any further debate on the $498 million bond plan until next January. Despite Wednesday’s vote, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White said the state used to borrow on a cycle to raise funds for general maintenance work, but has not done so since 2001.
— The state Senate Wednesday passed a bill which attempts to make it easier for the public to access government documents. But The State newspaper reports a late amendment pulled some teeth out of the proposal. State Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton, stripped out House language creating a new office within the state Administrative Law Court which would allow cases to settle more quickly if an agency refuses to release records. The bill still would create a 30-day deadline for government entities to turn over public documents and requires a circuit court hear a case within 10 days.
— A group of state senators and representatives tasked with shoring up South Carolina’s flagging pension system are working on ways to make the fund more secure for the long-term. The Joint Committee on Pension Systems Review held the first of a second round of meetings this week, weeks after its plan to recharge the state’s retirement fund became law. The proposal had public agencies devote more tax dollars into the plans to help close a $20 billion gap between what the state has promised future retirees versus what it is expected to have on hand.
— Supporters briefly raised a Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds Wednesday, honoring the banner removed by the legislature in 2015. But the attention was on an out-of-state group who trailed a banner with the flag behind a small plane flying over downtown Columbia for almost an hour. The group called itself the Virginia Flaggers and wrote the message says “NO COMPROMISE — VAFLAG.ORG.” The group’s website says it’s against “those who would desecrate our Confederate Monuments and memorials, and FOR our Confederate Veterans.”
— An Upstate Republican legislator plans to challenge his own party’s candidate for Secretary of State next year. State Rep. Joshua Putnam said he will make a formal announcement Thursday morning. The Secretary of State is an elected post which handles business filings and registers charities in South Carolina. Putnam said a lot of businesses are frustrated with the sluggishness of the office under current Secretary of State Mark Hammond, for instance that it did not create an online business filing system until this year.
— A former Florence County legislator who served for a single term in Congress has died at age 96. Former U.S. Rep. Ed Young passed away at home while surrounded by family Tuesday, according to an obituary. Young was a farmer who briefly served in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat from 1957 to 1960. He then switched parties and ran for Congress in 1972, becoming the first Republican to ever win South Carolina’s Sixth District. He lost reelection amid a national backlash against Republicans over the Watergate scandal two years later. He also unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1978.